By Gina Gallo
It wasn't just the uniform. Although, staring into the mirror at his
brand new blues, the rookie acknowledged a rush of excitement. He was 'The Man' now, impressive in his knife-creased slacks and the blue shirt with the department patches and the silver star, the one
they'd given him when he'd sworn to serve and protect.The new Beretta snugged tightly into his breakaway holster was further evidence of his authority, his commitment to enforce the law and
keep the peace. Finally, a cop, after years of dreaming, and months spent sweating through the grueling Academy training program. Adjusting his gunbelt slightly, he
struck a self-conscious pose. He was one of the brotherhood now.
Walking into roll-call on that first day, he tried for the correct demeanor. Not quite a swagger, more of
an authoritative stroll that meant he was confident, a tough cop ready for anything. And when he was partnered with Hudson, a salty vet with over twenty years experience, he did his best to match the
older officer's laconic smirk and fathomless eyes. Street cops maintained a game face, he knew. It was important not to show your feelings, allow nothing to crack your tough veneer. Now that he was one
of them, he wanted more than anything to be accepted as a good cop, a hard worker, a stand-up guy. Hudson was amused by the new kid, by his squeaky-clean blues and the eager way he drank in
everything. Rolling down the streets of their beat that day, he listened to the rookie's interminable questions, meant to sound like a seasoned cop, he knew, but sounding mostly like an excited kid. Like
the green kid that he was. Recalling his own rookie days, Hudson suppressed a smile. He'd been like this, too, in the beginning. He remembered how important it had been to look tough, sound tough, a
young pup striving to be a salty old dog. And because of that, he shared some war stories with the rookie, expounded on his views of policing in an ongoing monolog as their beat car nosed through the
quiet streets. "Partners stick together," Hudson told him. "No matter what else happens, that's the
bottom line. I got your back, you got mine. That's the first rule of the streets. The most important
rule." There were other rules, of course, but all of them centered on taking care of each other. Ending
each tour of duty the same way you started it - alive, and intact. Every day you got to go home was a
victory. "We back each other up," Hudson said. "When it hits the fan, you better be there right next to
me. That's what we do. First time you chicken out, everybody'll know about it. Then you get a reputation, and nobody will work with you. You get in trouble, nobody'll back you up. Which, out
here, is suicide. So stay on your toes, and remember to cover your ass, and mine too. Long as you do that, you'll be okay."
The rookie nodded vigorously, feeling a quick surge of pride. He knew all about the code of the brotherhood, knew he would never violate it. He'd waited all his life to be a cop. Never would he let
Hudson down, or anyone who wore the badge. As that day passed, and the next, and in the weeks that followed, the rookie was determined to prove his worth to Hudson, to the rest of his co-workers,
and especially to himself. He fidgeted through the minor jobs - the lost persons, old ladies complaining about their loud neighbors, and waited for the hot calls so he could show his stuff. A
simple domestic disturbance? No such thing as 'simple,' the rookie knew. He entered those calls boldly, ready to disarm the combatants, place himself at the forefront of the altercation to prove he
had the heart and guts of a warrior. Disorderly conduct? The offender might be armed, or ready to
fight....might even be the look-out for some other criminal action going on near-by. With wary eyes and yearning heart, the rookie steeled himself for the action that never came. It was during the second
month of duty that the call came. "Disturbance at the store," the dispatcher told them. As Hudson
drove toward the specified location, the rookie squirmed impatiently. "I know that store," he told his
partner. "Maybe it's an armed robbery." Shifting his ever-present toothpick placidly, Hudson barely
spared him a glance. "If it was a robbery, they'd say robbery, kid. This is just a disturbance. Maybe one of the customers thinks they ain't gettin' the sale price."
The squad car pulled up in front of the place- a women's clothing store in the middle of the block. Before Hudson could heave himself out of the car, the rookie was on the sidewalk, uniform hat in
place, a textbook picture of the correct police demeanor. He had just enough time to glimpse his reflection in the display windows before a youngish blonde male in a leather jacket barreled through
the double doors. Catching site of the rookie, he stopped short, and then bolted down the street.
Another man rushed out of the store, the heavy-set store owner who screamed at the rookie.
"Go get that bastard!" he shouted. "Kill him! What are you waiting for?"
It was all the rookie needed. He raced after the offender, who by now was nearly a block away.
Struggling to maintain a visual on the leather jacket that bobbed through the crowds, he flew down one block, then three, then six. After that he stopped counting, just concentrated on keeping his focus. It
was up to him to catch the bad guy. Hudson was quite a distance behind him, he figured. But he was younger, fitter from his months of training at the Academy, and he didn't mind picking up his partner's
slack. That's what brothers did - what teamwork was all about. It was the moment of truth he'd been waiting for - an opportunity to do what real cops do.
The rookie was getting winded. Judging by the erratic weaving pattern his suspect moved in, he was tired too. And when he ducked down the subway stairs, the rookie knew he had him. The blonde man
hesitated near the lower stairs, turned halfway as the rookie began his descent. Breathing heavily, the man held up his hand and brought it to the zipper of his jacket.
It was that critical moment, the rookie knew. The one they'd talked about at the Academy, where the scenario plays out and your life hangs in the balance. The split second where instincts and reflexes
kick in to decide your fate, define you as a cop, a survivor...or a casualty. The rookie didn't hesitate. His gun was out almost before he realized it, spitting a stream of fire and death that sent the blond man
crashing to the ground. Later, it would seem like a moment frozen in time. He would remember thinking that his partner would be proud, how the guys in the station would applaud his bravery
under fire. He'd faced down a gunman, cheated his own death and delivered another's. He even imagined how the detectives in the follow-up investigation would show him the man's weapon that
had almost been drawn, had almost ended his own life. Except there was no weapon, only the reproachful look of a seventeen year old boy whose life seeped away in spreading pools. In those
final moments, he stared at the rookie, held his horrified eyes as he removed what nestled inside his jacket.
It was the sweater he'd shoplifted, a cheap blue pullover now sodden with his blood. His lips moved
futilely, rasping out a final message that was hard to hear over the approaching sirens. "You didn't have to shoot me. I would've given it back."
Copyright © 2000 Gina Gallo
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